Richard Gasquet made a convincing start to his bid to regain a place in the world’s top ten with a new year first round victory in the Qatar Open on Monday.
The Switzerland-based former world number seven made some enterprising approaches to the net and hit plenty of characteristically flowing ground strokes during a 6-3, 7-5 win over Pablo Andujar, a top 50 Spaniard.
Though it was a match Gasquet expected to win, the quality of his game sometimes made it hard to believe he has dropped to 27 in the rankings after a disappointing 2014.
Two years ago after winning the title here he went on to return to the world’s top ten for the first time in five years. He would love to do something similar this time.
“I’m really hoping I can play better this year,” he stressed. “The most important for me is to be fit, because I had so many injuries last year and it’s impossible to do a great season when you are so injured.
“So it’s most important for me to be fit this year and I think it’s okay at the moment. Really, I need to work on my physical condition with the physio, with everything, but I think I’m still young.”
Gasquet’s only uncertain moments occurred when he led 5-3 in the second set, with the match all but won. After Andujar held serve for 4-5, Gasquet dropped his own service for the first time — to love, with a game which included a double fault.
He responded by breaking Andujar for the third time, saving a game point with a brilliantly struck trademark backhand, following it with two successful net approaches, and reaching 6-5 with another elegantly powerful backhand.
“I’m really happy I managed to break him again, and that I could finish on my serve at 6-5,” said the 28-year-old.
“It was important because you never know what can happen if you are losing 7-6 in a second set.”
Further progress will involve an encounter with Simone Bolelli, the world number 52 from Italy, which appears within Gasquet’s capacity to negotiate, followed by a possible quarter-final with Tomas Berdych, the third-seeded former Wimbledon finalist from the Czech Republic, against whom he holds a 6-4 winning record.
Later, Ivo Karlovic became the only active player to surpass 9,000 aces after hitting 27 in his first round win over Lukas Rosol. The Croatian, who beat the Czech 7-6(7-4), 6-3, in a match finishing after midnight, thus reached a total of 9,022 with only two men ever having hit more.
They are Karlovic’s Croatian compatriot Goran Ivanisevic, the former Wimbledon champion, who struck 10,183 career aces, and Andy Roddick, the former world number one from the United States, who hit 9,074. Karlovic, though aged 35, appears capable of overtaking Roddickâ€™s total quite soon.
The two ailing tournament favourites, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, both made winning starts to 2015 — but in doubles.
Djokovic, the world number one, partnered his Serbian compatriot Filip Krajinov to a 6-1, 6-4 win over Jabor Ali Mutawa of Qatar and Malek Jaziri of Tunisia, and proclaimed himself better after the fever which caused his withdrawal from the final of the Abu Dhabi exhibition event two days previously.
Nadal, the former world number one, partnered Juan Monaco of Argentina to a 6-3, 6-3 win over Bolelli and Leonardo Mayer, another Argentine.
The Spaniardâ€™s return to his former excellence may take longer than Djokovic’s after an appendectomy and a badly truncated second half of 2014.